Video Games, Just a Pastime, or a True Medical Revelation? By Rolando Barredo

In this modern era, we entertain ourselves very differently than many years ago. Instead of physical activity, we use technology, such as video games in order to entertain ourselves. But during all the time that we play, what is going on in our brain? Is it benefiting or damaging our brain? Gaming is actually very good for our brains and our mental health. Playing video games induces brain plasticity, which is beneficial for mental health. Also, research has found that video game “training” is a good way to reduce the effects of autism. Lastly, playing video games augments cognitive function in the brain. During this written discussion, I will elaborate on the positive effects of video games on the brain, as well as any other arguments that can stem from these studies. Also, I will discuss how this can possibly change in the future, when new technology arrives on the scene.

Playing video games induces brain plasticity, which is beneficial for mental health. Onee belief people have is that playing video games is a waste of time, in which we don’t take away any benefits other than entertaining ourselves. Well, according to a study carried out in 2014, Super Mario induces brain plasticity, or in other words, playing Super Mario makes the brain more plastic.The article states that increasing plasticity of the brain can help “counteract known risk factors for mental disease.” (Kuhn, Page 1) How do we know that this is increasing brain plasticity? Well, the study showed that after the 2 month study period, gray matter in the brain increased in the cerebellum and the right hippocampus. This also leads us to the conclusion that the navigational skills needed to succeed in Super Mario directly correlated to the increased amount of gray matter in the brain. On another note, John Medina, in Brain Rules, discussed brain plasticity, and its importance to the wiring of the brain. Of course, since each person’s brain is wired differently, the results from the research done by Kuhn varies, and you shouldn’t expect to be immune to mental disorders.  If we can wire the brain better, that will lead to less risk of mental diseases. This evidence clearly shows how video games really benefit our brain.

Playing video games helps relieve the effects of mental disorders such as autism. Autism is defined as “A mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary.) There are many treatment options that can alleviate the effects of ASD. A research done in the University of Freiburg in Germany suggests that  “non-violent video games with an engaging storytelling can prove to be beneficial in combating clinical disorders.” (Health Daily Digest) The article where this research is found also states that the storytelling in these video games help autistic children interact and reason with the video game, therefore helping them develop the section in their brain that lacks full function. With this in mind, the research done also states that this can help “other clinical disorders as well.” The engagement of an autistic brain is what benefits he person. According to another article in Health Daily Digest, playing video games and also boost an autistic child’s cognitive skill, as well as their use of social media. Why is more social media use key? Well, autism restricts interest in social skills, so this boost in social media use is also beneficial to them, stemming from video game play. Overall, a person that has a mental disorder, which is highly engaged with video game can see an improvement to their overall mental health.

Video game training increases cognitive function. Cognitive function is defined “as an intellectual process by which one becomes aware of, perceives, or comprehends ideas. It involves all aspects of perception, thinking, reasoning, and remembering.” Therefore, what we are trying to prove is that video games make you more alert. Well, in an interview with my mom, Tania, she states that she isn’t “One of those people that believes that video games are a waste of time.” I asked her if she has played video games recently, to which she has responded “Yes.” She plays on her cell phone. When I asked what effect she feels from frequently playing video games on her phone, she said that “It makes her feel more focused and attentive.” I was quite surprised at her answer, but according to an article on PLoS One, a well known public library of science, their research results suggest that in old human brains, the more a person trained in video games, the more of an improvement they see in “cognitive performance on attentional functions.” (Mayas, Page 1) Therefore, the way my mom feels isn’t a placebo effect, it is backed by research that has been recently done.

Well, despite all the research done to prove that video games are actually quite positive for the brain, there are other arguments that are quite valid. A renowned argument made against video games is that they make you lose focus, since the brain craves playing video games. This is quite valid, as with anything that can become addictive, it can have negative effects for the brain. I interviewed my friend Erick (15 years old), who plays video games as if it were for a living. I told him to be honest with his answers. When I asked him how much Call of Duty he plays a day, he responded by saying that “It’s from the moment I wake up till’ I feel sleepy. I do stop to eat though.” Clearly, he is a suitable candidate to discuss what negative effect video games have on his mental state. One question I had to ask him was “What do you feel like doing when you’re in school?” He said that he just “Wishes to get home and get on PSN. (Playstation Network) I just feel like I’ve gone through so much throughout the day that it helps relieve the stress from the day.” This is quite surprising, yet believable in this technological era we live in. Just like drug and alcohol addiction, video games are addictive, which can lead to negative re-wiring of the brain. One will become dependent of this “escape” and it can become harmful. This is an argument that other make in rebuttal to the good video games can do for the brain.

Well, video games a have an immensely positive effect on the brain. For example, it can reduce chances of mental disorder and also improve cognitive function. The evidence is clear and it is here for everyone to see. Gone are the days where the only thing we can say about video games is that it’s a pastime. The possibilities for the future of video games are endless. There are already games on ones phone that reduce brain aging, so the future is here. But what about other video games? Can there be video games of all genres that also have a positive effect on the brain? Well, it is most certainly possible. With the research we have now, more developments can be made which will revolutionize the entertainment and medical fields. We can create video games that are not only fun, but proven to be good for the brain. What can we do in the meantime, while we wait for the perfect video game? Well, go play some classic Super Mario, or any engaging video game, and rest assured that your brain will appreciate it.

Works Cited

Erick. Personal interview. 5 December 2015.

Kühn, S, et al. “Playing Super Mario Induces Structural Brain Plasticity: Gray Matter Changes Resulting From Training With A Commercial Video Game.” Molecular Psychiatry 19.2 (2014): 265-271. Academic Search Complete. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.

Mayas, Julia, et al. “Plasticity Of Attentional Functions In Older Adults After Non-Action Video Game Training: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Plos ONE 9.3 (2014): 1-10. Academic Search Complete. Web. 8 Dec. 2015

Medina, John. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Seattle, WA: Pear, 2008. Print.

Saha, Debatree. “TV and Video Games, Not Social Media, Keep Autistic Kids Engaged.”Health Daily Digest 16 Feb. 2012: n. pag. LexisNexis Academic [LexisNexis]. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.

Tania. Personal interview. 4 December 2015.

“Video Games Can Combat Autism: Study.” Health Daily Digest [London] 14 Apr. 2015: n. pag. LexisNexis Academic [LexisNexis]. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.

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